TUSCOLA – The Tuscola boys basketball program aims to play Champaign the second weekend in March and create a bit of history.
At the State Farm Center. With a state championship on the line.
But long before the playoff spotlight shines on coach Justin Bozarth and his talented Warriors, a chance for a historic feat awaits a proud schedule Friday night.
If the Warriors (3-1) beat Uni High (5-4) in a non-conference home game scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip, Tuscola will claim their 1,500th win in program history.
It’s a moment that is long in coming – Tuscola played his first game of boys’ basketball in the 1907-08 school year – and Bozarth has known for some time thanks to the research efforts of Tuscola’s athletic director. , Ryan Hornaday.
“He actually identified it at the start of last season,” Bozarth said Thursday. “When you looked at it we thought we would have gotten it at some point in the last basketball season.”
The pandemic, obviously, changed those plans as Tuscola went 13-5 during the shortened schedule, leaving the Warriors four wins away from achieving the milestone. Tuscola has plenty of opportunities to claim the No. 1,500 victory and add to its total this month, with 13 games scheduled over a 25-day span in December. After Friday night, the Warriors will travel to Champaign to face St. Thomas More in an intriguing non-conference game at 4 p.m. Saturday.
But potentially securing the 1,500th victory in front of his home crowd – Tuscola invited former players to Friday night’s game for free and they will be recognized after the game if the Warriors win – is an added incentive. Bozarth understands this almost better than anyone, having played for Tuscola and graduated from Douglas County School in 2004.
“For someone like me, who was born and raised here, and my parents were born and raised here, I learned a lot from my dad going to games when I was little and just hearing about guys that I got to watch and these teams that were really special at the time, as well as individual players, “said Bozarth.” You talk about the teams from the late 1980s, and I was a kid attending. those games. These are some of the best teams our school has had to offer. “
Indeed, they were. The 1988-89 team, coached by Kerry Kincaid and showcasing the talents of players like Steve Weemer, Roger Warner, Matt Washburn and Brian Hatfield, among others, finished 28-2 and advanced to the tournament. Class A condition in Champaign. It is the only Tuscola team to qualify for the state tournament, but that group was the second of four consecutive teams to win a regional title each year from 1988 to 1991.
The 1995-96 squad, bolstered by the presence of future Illini and NFL defensive end Fred Wakefield, moved to a super-sectional in the two-class system, as did the 2004-05 squad. During the four years that Bozarth was in high school, the Warriors won at least 22 games each season. And Tuscola has won at least 20 games in two of Bozarth’s first three seasons as a coach at his alma mater.
Now in his fifth season at the helm of Tuscola, Bozarth has a senior star in Jalen Quinn and a strong supporting cast to build on. So it’s probably possible to hit the 20-win benchmark, with even bigger playoff goals on the horizon. Savoring the everyday moments, however, during the regular season is another aspect that Bozarth doesn’t want his current players to lose sight of.
“I firmly believe that high school kids look for motivation in just about everything,” Bozarth said. “It’s another one of those deals that, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be the team that’s going to get our fourth win as quickly as possible so that we can celebrate that with everyone who’s invested in this as well.’ At Tuscola we are no different from a lot of small schools in that we have kids whose fathers played here and were part of that 1,500 win stack. To have all these people in the gym it will be, hopefully, a special evening. ”
Quinn had one earlier this week in Tuscola’s gym on Tuesday night. The 6-foot-3 left-hander became the Warriors’ all-time leading scorer in Tuscola’s convincing 85-38 win over Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond. The signing Loyola Chicago now has 1,607 career points, as well as 557 career rebounds and 263 career assists, Friday night. He’s averaging 26.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.8 steals in the first two weeks of the season.
Since signing with the Ramblers last month as well, Bozarth has said he has also seen a different Quinn emerge. Free from the pressure of choosing a future college home, he can simply look to adding to his already impressive legacy in Tuscola.
“Off the pitch the easiest way to look at it is that every kid loves to be recruited and to have interest, but there comes a point in the recruiting process that it almost just becomes nonstop.” , said Bozarth. “I think Jalen got to where it was, whether he was sitting at home or hanging out with friends, it was either a text or a phone call. If you don’t respond, then people get worried, “Well, maybe he’s not interested because he didn’t respond. He’s a kid, like many kids, who doesn’t want to sit all day talking on the phone. I think off the pitch he’s just more relaxed.
This has translated into even better performances on the pitch since the four-year incumbent.
“He knows what we need from him,” Bozarth said. “He’s been playing with his classmates who he’s been playing with since he was in second grade. Everyone knows what to expect and where to be, so just not having the pressure to perform specifically when this or that trainer is in the gym watching you, they are just playing at a super relaxed level at this point. .
Quinn, of course, is the catalyst that Tuscola will rely on throughout the season to achieve his high expectations. Bozarth doesn’t have another DI rookie on his roster, but he has strong backers who can complement Quinn when opponents do their best to stop the dynamic playmaker.
Preston Brown, a 6-4 senior, is averaging 8.3 points. Easton Cunningham, a 6-0 junior, is averaging seven points and has managed 50 percent of his three-point attempts (8 of 16) so far. Haven Hatfield, a 6-3 senior, is a two-year-old starter who provides home defense and a physical presence at the post. Jordan Quinn, a 6-2 sophomore and younger brother of Jalen, played his first game of the season against ALAH and lost 10 points.
“We knew before the start of the season that our depth was going to be a huge factor,” said Bozarth. “So far we’ve had a different secondary scorer in every game. Easton has made huge strides, both athletically and defensively, which has allowed him to be solid on both ends of the court. Haven is a guy who continues to be strong. Preston has taken a huge leap in what he’s capable of, but he carried a bit of the goal load for us. A lot of guys fall into their roles and try to star in those roles.
A special season seems to be taking shape in Tuscola. With people from the passionate sports community taking note.
“We had a lot of enthusiasm and energy in our gym on game night,” said Bozarth. “Our guys are around the community, and we’re getting more and more new faces with every home game. Their work ethic has led them to get a bit of talk about themselves, and that also comes with a target on the back too. To see the accolades that we have been able to achieve and that we hope to achieve on Friday, our basketball program is well placed. This week has been a unique week, but certainly also a memorable one. “
Another chance to add to the memories – and the total wins of the program – is to be seized on Friday night in Tuscola.
If you are a basketball fan, go out there and enjoy it.
Matt Daniels is the sports editor of The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at email@example.com.